Behold the Ghost of Palm Past. Earlier this week, industry watchers got to relive the rise and fall of webOS as Research In Motion gave the world a brief look at a gorgeous new smartphone platform while failing to convince anyone that it can succeed in a market dominated by Apple and Google. RIM’s stock plummeted from a high of $14.62 earlier this week to the $11-range as a result. Then, on Thursday, Samsung took the wraps off its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S III. The impressive smartphone’s design was described as having been inspired by pebbles that had been smoothed be the flow of water in a river. There was once another smartphone with a design inspired by river rocks, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…
To make Samsung’s Galaxy S III announcement even more Palm-like, the South Korean vendor even aired a short promotional video featuring a somewhat creepy woman discussing the new phone. Granted, she didn’t appear to be hallucinating at the time, but the similarities between this promo and Palm’s uncomfortably pale spokeswoman were definitely there.
Of course Samsung certainly is not where Palm was in 2009, and it isn’t where RIM is today. Samsung is the No.1 smartphone vendor in the world, and its mobile business is pushing the company’s profits to new heights.
But despite a big-budget press conference featuring a live orchestra and an Olympic Games sponsorship, the Samsung Galaxy S III wasn’t met with overwhelming enthusiasm, as Samsung had undoubtedly hoped.
The Galaxy S III is an impressive phone. It features a quad-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor, a gigantic 4.8-inch high-definition Super AMOLED display and an ultra-slim case that is among the thinnest in the world. Even still, it’s just not that exciting.
The design looks to be a less impressive take on HTC’s One X, opting for cheap plastic in place of HTC’s unibody polycarbonate case. Samsung’s “S Voice” voice-command feature is a dumbed down version of Siri, and AllShare is all too familiar. Some might say Samsung’s new TouchWiz interface atop Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich can’t match the sleek look and feel of HTC’s Sense 4, and the Galaxy S III’s new camera software is a clear improvement over previous-generation Samsung handsets, but it falls well short of matching HTC’s Image Sense software and the new camera hardware found on its One-series phones.
The biggest winner on Thursday afternoon may very well have been HTC.
Samsung’s new smartphone will launch on nearly 300 carriers in the coming months, and it will be a top seller. Samsung mobile boss JK Shin on Thursday said that the company aims to sell 200 million smartphones in 2012, and the way things are looking right now, this is a very real possibility — Samsung shipped an estimated 44.5 million smartphones in the first quarter, and its new flagship phone won’t even begin rolling out until later this month.
There is another vendor that should be doing everything in its power to make sure Samsung doesn’t meet that goal, however, and that vendor is HTC. HTC had a record run in 2011 that was abruptly halted when Apple launched the iPhone 4S. The Taiwan-based smartphone company has been sliding since then, and its profit plummeted 70% in the first quarter this year.
HTC responded with three smartphones. Three fantastic smartphones that marry cutting edge technology with sleek designs and high quality materials. We’ve seen what a company can do with just three smartphones, but products alone won’t right this ship. HTC might be well-served to take a page from Apple’s book and double, triple or even quadruple down on marketing. No consumer electronics company spends more money marketing its gadgets than Apple, and perhaps not entirely by coincidence, no consumer electronics company in the world makes as much money as Apple.
The HTC One S — one of the most gorgeous smartphones I have ever held — is now available on T-Mobile, a carrier in desperate need of a hit. Or is it? Did the One S even launch? Is T-Mobile selling it? For every HTC One S commercial on TV, I see 20 commercials featuring the T-Mobile girl decked out in leather riding around on a crotch rocket while on-screen text talks up T-Mobile’s 4G network. Maybe it’s because I’m in a small market (New York) and HTC and T-Mobile are hitting larger markets harder with the One S.
And is the One X launching this Sunday on AT&T? I know AT&T sells the iPhone and the carrier is making sure as many people as possible are made aware of Nokia’s Lumia 900 thanks to the Finnish vendor’s deep pockets, but HTC’s One X will hardly be a contender at AT&T — which sells more smartphones than any other carrier in the all-too-important U.S. market — unless HTC puts its money where its mouth is.
Maybe HTC is banking on Sprint’s version of the One X, the HTC EVO 4G LTE, which is an amazing LTE phone with no LTE network to support it and a back cover that might invoke your gag reflex.
There is a window, and it is open. HTC got a head start on Samsung’s Galaxy S III and its One-series smartphones have everything it takes to find success… if wireless subscribers are made aware of their existence more effectively and aggressively.
That window may slam shut this summer when the Galaxy S III launches, and it may have iron bars bolted over it this coming fall when Apple launches its next-generation iPhone. In the meantime, HTC has little time to spare if it hopes to seize this opportunity and become a smartphone leader once again.